The Socratic Society’s Philosophy Discussion Group meets again on Tuesday, August 19th in Morven Brown 372 from midday until 2pm. Anyone with an interest in the topic is welcome, and you can come and go at any time; you don’t need to be there for the whole two hours. Light refreshments will be provided.
The topic is “Animal ethics and vegetarianism”.
I’m a vegetarian. I believe that eating meat is wrong because it causes terrible suffering to animals. However, every year I face a dilemma. My mother slaves for hours to prepare a traditional Christmas lunch, which includes a huge leg of ham. Should I refuse the ham and hurt my mother’s feelings, or eat the ham and betray my ethical beliefs?
Peter Singer is an arguably Australia’s most famous philosopher. He is also a vegan for ethical reasons. He believes that it is morally wrong to eat meat, and his beliefs are based on an ethical theory called preference utilitarianism. Wikipedia summarises this theory thusly:
“Preference utilitarians define a morally right action as that which produces the most favourable consequences for the people involved. Preference utilitarians interpret the best consequences in terms of ‘preference satisfaction’. This means that ‘good’ is described as the satisfaction of each person’s individual preferences or desires, and a right action is that which leads to this satisfaction.”
Got it? Me either. Don’t worry – there is no need to understand the technicalities of Singer’s theory to realise that eating meat is wrong. Consider the following argument:
1. It is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering
2. Animals suffer during the process of producing meat for human consumption
3. Humans don’t need to eat meat to survive
4. When a person purchases meat, they cause more meat to be produced
5. So, purchasing meat causes unnecessary suffering
Conclusion: purchasing meat is wrong.
I find this argument terribly compelling. It is no doubt possible to raise numerous theoretical objections, but as far as I’m concerned it is kindergarten ethics: you shouldn’t do things that cause people or animals to suffer. Don’t kick the little kitty, don’t crush lizards with stones, and don’t eat the pig.
But what about that Christmas ham? I distinguish between purchasing meat and eating meat. The way I see it, my mother is going to buy that ham no matter what I say, so it makes no difference whether I eat it or not. The producers are still going to get their money and that is still going to encourage them to produce meat. If eating the ham doesn’t cause unnecessary suffering, then the above argument doesn’t apply. Pass the apple sauce, please.
See you on Tuesday.